Fiji humiliated France 21-14 on Saturday to claim an historic first victory over Les Bleus in more than 60 years less than a year before the World Cup.
The teams have faced each other on 10 occasions in more than half a century and the Pacific Islanders finally claimed a memorable win in Paris despite being denied two debatable tries by referee Matthew Carley and his television match official.
Outside-half Benjamin Volavola scored his third penalty kick with the clock in the red which led to the Fijians on the field to fall to their knees in prayer thanking for an unforgettable evening in the French capital.
Coach John McKee put the momentous feat into context at his post-match press conference.
“It’s a massive achievement. We told each other this week that if we beat France we would make it into the pantheon of Fijian rugby,” the New Zealander said.
All of Fiji’s points came from backs who play for French clubs as Bordeaux-Begles’ Semi Radradra and Toulon’s Josua Tuisova scored tries and Racing92’s Benjamin Volavola added a conversion and three penalty goals.
France captain Guilhem Guirado crossed twice for the visitors.
He was replaced by rookie Julien Marchand on 68 minutes and centre Mathieu Bastareaud took over the captaincy. Television microphones caught the angry post-match speech he adressed to his players.
Bastareaud said in colourful language: “Who do we think we are? We beat Argentina and we think we’re something special. We have to start from scratch now and we’re at rock bottom. Because we’re pathetic, shameful, we have to be aware of that.”
Coach Jacques Brunel claimed there were only negatives from his side’s eighth defeat in 11 game this year.
“It’s a big disappointment. It’s difficult for me to find anything positive from tonight,” the 64-year-old said.
Les Bleus failed to apply any sort of fluidity in attack which was surprising after an impressive display with ball in hand in last Saturday’s 28-13 victory over Argentina.
A trio of second-half penalties easily converted by Volavola claimed a momentous win for John McKee’s side less than a year away from the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Powerful three-quarter Radradra opened the scoring at a half-full Stade de France crossing after less than 20 minutes after crashing through four defenders before stretching to dot the ball down for the first try.
– Flying Fijians –
The home side’s captain Guirado brought the teams level to claim his third try in as many Test matches which came from a powerful rolling maul and the Toulon skipper gladfully scored.
Guirado’s Toulon team-mate Tuisvoa re-claimed the advantage as he made the most of a clinical move from a scrum 40 metres out on the half hour mark.
The first controversial decision came after 36 minutes as Radradra was judged to be offside as he played the ball at ruck before passing the ball for Veriniki Goneva.
Guirado added a second touchdown four minutes into first half injury time as he profited from another dominant rolling maul. Serin’s conversion meant the home side led 14-12 at the break.
The visitors re-gained the advantaged six minutes into the second half as Volavola kicked a penalty goal.
They were denied by the video referee for a second time as lock Tevita Cavubati was judged to have tackled Huget late before Tuisova had managed to score.
Volavola added a second three-pointer after an hour as French forwards were penalised for not rolling away at a ruck.
Brunel went looking for a comeback and called upon youngsters from his substitutes bench.
Uncapped front-rowers Demba Bamba and Marchand as well as 22-year-old Antoine Dupont were brought onto the field during the final 20 minutes.
Les Bleus were camped in the Fijian 22 metres making easily-readable one-out passes to forwards, scrum-half Dupont attempting to add much-needed pace and dynamism to the attack.
Despite Brunel’s efforts and Dupont’s energy the Pacific Islanders’ defence held strong. They cleared their lines comfortably ending up in the French 22.
Former Bordeaux-Begles outside-half Volavola added a third penalty kick with the clock in the red which led to the Fijians on the field to fall to their knees in prayer thanking for an unforgettable evening in the French capital.